The Boys' Treehouse

If women really are choosing to leave the core games industry, who could blame them?

Published as part of our sister-site GamesIndustry.biz's widely-read weekly newsletter, the GamesIndustry.biz Editorial, is a weekly dissection of an issue weighing on the minds of the people at the top of the games business. It appears on Eurogamer after it goes out to GI.biz newsletter subscribers.

Nobody in the games business is under any illusions about the industry's male-dominated nature. Even so, research showing that the proportion of women working in games in the UK is as low as 4% has turned heads - especially since that suggests a massive decline since the last survey, in 2006, which showed that 12% of staff were female.

Before looking in any depth at that decline, it's important to point out that both figures are pretty dismal. Even the 12% figure reflects an industry in which many firms haven't managed to move past the boys' club mentality - one whose public image dissuades women from considering it as a career in the first place, whose approach to recruitment often directly disadvantages those women who do apply and whose work practices and working environments are downright hostile to women hoping to build long-term careers.

All of these things are shameful, and although some companies have taken huge strides in making themselves into more attractive places for women to work in recent years, it's still common to hear such concerns greeted with a curt "feh, women just aren't interested in games anyway" dismissal from senior industry executives who should really, really know better.

Even given the industry's often depressingly slow progress into the 21st century, however, few would argue that things haven't been improving. The dominance of industry workplaces by straight white males is no longer the given that it used to be - both women and various minorities should, in theory, feel more welcome in the games business now than they did in 2006. So why the decline?

The British Sociological Association, which has promoted the research, reckons that it's down to the culture of long working hours - the almost endless crunch which seems to consume many game development studios.

They have a point, of course. This kind of working culture does affect women disproportionately, since it effectively militates against working mothers, but it also affects many men in the industry, especially those hoping to start families. The net result is that experienced, talented staff are lost to other industries from both sides of the gender divide - a situation which the industry needs to tackle not merely for gender equality reasons, but because it makes absolutely no sense to lose hugely experienced staff to avoidable attrition in this way.

Again, however, this is a factor which has actually been improving since 2006 at many (although by no means all) studios. Some, such as Brighton-based Relentless, stick firmly to a "9 to 5, no overtime, no weekends" culture, which is ideal for those with young families. Many others have demonstrated laudable willingness to be flexible in their working arrangements for those with families, a flexibility which was not common even a few years ago.

So, again, why the decline? In fact, one might argue that a part of the decline in the percentage of women working at core game studios has a lot to do with the rise of other sectors of the industry in which women have been much more welcome right from the outset - social, mobile and casual games, sectors which were small in 2006 but have grown to huge prominence by 2010.

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